The Six Pillars of Living Well
Our culture seems to love simple, one-dimensional answers to questions about health, fitness, weight loss, and living well. I’ve read many books that promise if I just eat the right ratio of fat to carbs, or cut out grains, or do a simple 15-minute exercise program, that I can achieve my weight or fitness goals. My guess is that you have read some of these books too.
The problem with these simple solutions is that our bodies are complex, self-regulating organisms with multiple needs. The human genome has about 22,000 protein-coding genes and many of these genes can be turned on or off based on our diet, exercise, sleep patterns, exposure to nutrients and chemicals—even our exposure to light. Any solution that hopes to address how to achieve good health and fitness must consider a variety of factors beyond just diet or exercise. Fortunately, the majority of these answers fit in with what we’ve long known about living well—get enough sleep, eat right, get some exercise—but with strong science to validate those observations and clarify what is really important and give us guidelines to follow.
In this book, I examine The 6 Pillars of Living Well: thinking, eating, moving, sleeping, hosting, and staying well. Some of these concepts are easy to understand—you can’t live well unless you sleep and eat well. Others are less obvious, but no less important. Putting all 6 Pillars to work will help you customize a program to help you live your best life, starting today.
Most of the time, we think about being “well” as avoiding colds and the flu so we can go about our daily schedule. We eat right, get some sleep, try not to drink too much, and generally keep healthy so we don’t miss a lot of work or feel lousy. That is the working definition of staying well for a lot of people.
For some people, however, staying well has an entirely different meaning. To those who battle ongoing diseases like MS, cancer, lupus, multiple sensitivity disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other conditions, staying well can mean the difference between a productive life and one spent as a prisoner to their disease.
Here’s a puzzler: What if most of the cells in your body are not you? No, that’s not a zen koan, it’s a remarkable way of looking at the nature of what a human body is actually made up of. You see, our bodies play host to perhaps a hundred trillion microbes in the form of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and simple animals. Amazingly, these microorganisms that live in and on our bodies actually outnumber our body’s approximately 10 trillion cells by ten to one. This sounds incredible and perhaps a bit disgusting on first blush, but there’s no getting rid of all of these microbes—and you wouldn’t want to if you could, because many of these organisms are absolutely vital for our health and well being.
What if I told you that there was something you could do for free, that required no effort and only took an hour, and was scientifically proven beyond a doubt to improve your mood, make you measurably more productive in your job, help you control your appetite, detoxify your brain and give you better cognitive skills, reduce your chances of getting in an accident, and even make you sexier. You’d do it in a minute, right?
Since we were children, our parents have told us to get plenty of sleep. And time and again the research is proving Mom right—getting less than eight hours of sleep very quickly impairs our productivity, judgment, health, and even our safety. Insufficient sleep undercuts everything we do in other areas of our lives: health, weight loss, career, and relationships.
Our bodies are designed to move, every day. Movement helps pump our blood and get our minds working. Regular movement makes us feel better, live longer, and do more. Movement is a virtuous cycle: the more you move the more you want to move and the easier moving becomes.
Unfortunately, modern life has taken a toll on our movement. Tens of centuries ago, Paleolithic humans needed to constantly hunt and gather to collect the items they needed to survive. People of the agricultural era also worked long days in fields to secure a living. Today, however, technology has replaced much of the physical work people used to do every day. While that’s a great benefit in many ways, it has sapped the movement our bodies need to stay healthy.
Ever since reading the book Sugar Blues over 30 years ago, and experiencing for myself the dramatic difference simple dietary changes can make, I’ve made the link between nutrition and health my obsessive focus. Food is by far the biggest single chemical we put into our bodies each day—literally the building block of our bodies. Our diet has a surprisingly strong influence on how we look, feel, and act each day, in addition to influencing our long term health. Every day, science is validating the link between health and diet. Improving nutrition is, in my view, the single most important field of endeavor for improving the human condition.
Eating is about the most natural thing we do, after breathing. How have people come to see it as being so complicated? Surely, science and common sense must have some absolute lessons about how to eat to keep our bodies nourished and at a healthy weight.
My journey toward living well started with an epiphany at age 151⁄2. It turned a new direction when my life took an unexpected detour from a debilitating illness. Everyone’s story is unique, but whatever brings you to the realization that you need to make a commitment to living well, you are here, reading this book. In my first book, “Living Green”, I open the first chapter with the Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” I’ve always found inspiration in that idea and it has helped give me the courage to tackle challenges that seemed monumental at the outset. And while this proverb is true enough, in reality, the journey begins with the decision to take the journey.
If you’ve decided to start living well, this book is for you. It can be a road map and instruction manual along the way. To get where you want to be, however, will take some work. Let’s face it, if the goals were easy to achieve you’d have done them already.